GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — An editor for a local newspaper was among 13 Palestinian journalists killed during Israel’s war on Gaza. Mohammed Daher, the financial editor for Al-Resalah newspaper, succumbed to his wounds on July 31 after spending 10 days in intensive care at al-Shifa Hospital.
“We were sitting in the room near the door. We could hear shells, shrapnel and nails scattering over the rooftop all night, and we were waiting for the morning to come,” Shaima, his pregnant wife who survived the attack, told Al-Monitor.
Shaima also lost her in-laws, brother, two sisters-in-law and 1-year-old daughter Dana in the attack. Shaima remembers Dana kissing her more than usual on the night of July 20, hours after her family became the target of a massacre perpetrated in the Shajaiya district, after a shell randomly hit their home and led to the collapse of three floors over the heads of the eight-member family.
Unlike others in the area, Mohammed’s family did not escape the neighborhood of death in the darkness of the night or at the crack of dawn. They were caught off guard by a shell on Sunday before noon. Their apartment building was set ablaze, then a heavy explosion was heard and the building started falling apart over their heads, burying them alive under the rubble.
Shaima, along with her husband, Mohammed, and his 8-year old sister, Bisan, spent six hours moaning under the rubble. Shaima was the first of the family to be discovered alive.
Shaima’s cries led rescuers to those who were still alive. She felt the pulse of life standing over the rubble. When she heard someone cry, “Anyone here?” Shaima said, “I cried and I started hitting anything so they could hear me.”
She shouted, "We are alive. I'm here. Mohammed is here. We are here." A rescuer heard her and replied, “Do not worry, sister. I swear we will not leave here until we rescue you.” However, removing the rubble with primitive tools was not easy. Although Israeli forces remained on the eastern border, rescuers challenged the volley of shots falling near them after the end of the two-hour humanitarian truce; they needed an extra three hours to pull out Shaima, Mohammed and Bisan — a task they finished by 6 p.m.
Under the rubble, Mohammed was calling on Shaima to lift the stones off his feet, while her brother Adham was wounded and lay bleeding over her. She was trying to talk to him, but his voice was fading, and when his hand turned ice cold, she realized he was dead.
Mohammed fought death and challenged the injuries scattered over his lean body pressed on by the rubble of three floors for 10 days. He suffered internal brain injury, a chest injury as a result of the rubble pressure, burns on his face and hands because of the fire caused by the artillery raid on the building and acute renal failure due to complications.
Al-Monitor visited Mohammed at al-Shifa's intensive care unit and heard him tell the doctor, “If anyone comes to visit me, let them in.” The doctor replied, “Yes. They come here every day. Do not worry. I will let them in.”
Mohammed was not asking about his colleagues and neighbors who came to visit him every day, some of whom he had spoken to already in his first five days at the hospital. What the physician did not understand, or perhaps overlooked, was that Mohammed was asking for his family. But he still did not know they were buried under the rubble of their home in Shajaiya.
“Bring me my mother, my father, my wife and my daughter. Why aren’t they visiting me? We did not leave each other’s side on the night of the bombing, so where are they now?” Mohammed frantically asked from his hospital bed. Shaima was not able to visit Mohammed during his time in the hospital.
He told one of his neighbors who came to visit him, “I remember you, Abu Riad. As soon as you left, we were surprised by the missile.”
This was all that the injured Mohammed, heavily sedated and with his entire body connected to medical devices, could say. Then the doctor prevented us from talking with Mohammed, out of fear his condition would deteriorate.
Although two of his brothers fled in search of safety, Mohammed had not wanted to leave his parents in Shajaiya and chose to stay with them, like many of the residents who lived through the massacre.
The residents of the Shajaiya district total nearly 100,000, thousands of whom have been displaced in search of a safe haven. They have since been displaced to schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), homes of relatives in nearby areas and other places that have been converted into shelters.
Noha, Mohammed's elder sister, told Al-Monitor, “The Red Cross could not get them out during the two-hour truce that was declared last week. So one of our relatives, who works in the medical field, went to rescue him on his own. But they only managed to pull out the three survivors, while the rest of the bodies stayed there, waiting for another truce.”
Nabil Daher, Mohammed’s uncle, said, "We have contacted the Red Cross, the civil defense and the local radio and called for help to pull out the bodies of my brother and his family, and all we received were promises that we would be given priority to be rescued in any upcoming truce."
Then there came a 12-hour truce on July 26. Medical sources announced that more than 100 bodies were pulled from under the rubble of various homes, but the civil defense crews only managed to pull out Adham’s body, which was swollen due to extreme heat. The bodies of Mohammed's father, mother, daughter and two sisters were found on the first day of Eid al-Fitr.
The biggest tragedy came on July 31 with the news that Mohammed had died, becoming the ninth journalist killed in this war, out of a total of 13 at the time of writing.
Bisan, Mohammed's 8-year-old sister, was the only survivor of her immediate family. She now needs plastic surgery to her face, which was severely disfigured by the shrapnel. This surgery, however, will not be enough to restore any former glory. Bisan is now an orphan.